Gender confirmation surgeries are on the rise in the United States. Over 3,200 transgender surgeries, ranging from “facial and body contouring” to “gender reassignment” were performed in the U.S. last year, according to a release by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The organization noted that it’s the first time such numbers were ever reported.

The data showed that such surgeries increased by a 19 percent throughout the country, evidencing a rapid evolution of public attitude and health coverage.

Gender confirmation surgeries are on the rise in the United States. Image credit: Huffpost
Gender confirmation surgeries are on the rise in the United States. Image credit: Huffpost

The numbers increased in all categories, with male-to-female confirmation surgeries increased 27 percent and female-to-male operations by 10 percent.

Gender confirmation surgeries are on the rise

The numbers reflect procedures only conducted by board-certified members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which recently began tracking the operations. Up until recently, U.S. transgender data of all kinds had been hard to come by, due to inadequate research surveys, limitations in the proper gender language on medical records, as well as the avoidance of the transgender community, to discuss its status.

“The changes over the last four of five years – societal, insurance. the generally favorable media attention- have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of surgeries,” said Loren Schechter, an ASPS member who has conducted transgender procedures in Chicago for the past two decades, according to The Washington Post.

According to Schechter, the barriers were hospitals, as it was difficult to get them to agree. Some hospitals declined for financial reasons, others because they were faith-based institutions, and some never got clear-cut answers, she noted. At that time, many transgender people seeking surgery had to leave the country to perform the procedures, but then, as Schechter puts it, “the winds started to change.”

A U.S. Health and Human Services Department review board overturned Medicare’s 33-year ban on covering gender-confirmation surgery in 2014, which became essential for the transgender community. The ban was initially implemented claiming that the procedure was still considered experimental, as well as medically risky and controversial.

More transgender people can have surgery following Medicare’s ban repeal

Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in 2013 to terminate the ban. Their plaintiff was Denee Mallon, 74 years old. The senior from Albuquerque had spent more than 30 years being denied the opportunity to transition from male to female. In the beginning, she was denied due to lack of support from psychiatrists, whom she needed to approve the surgery, then it was the lack of money to perform it.

Mallon had to sue the federal government to find the funds, and as she was shopping one day in Walmart, one of her lawyers called and said the review board had landed on a decision. They said she could have the surgery, only if she could find a surgeon who accepted Medicare. She turned to Schechter, at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, to help her with the case.

Denee Mallon. Image credit: NBC News
Denee Mallon. Image credit: NBC News

The next year, Mallon was taken into an operating room, which made her one of the 2,740 people to have a gender-confirmation procedure in 2015, according to the information released on Monday by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“When I woke up from surgery, I felt a certain sense of peace and tranquility,” said Mallon, according to The Washington Post.

Schechter explained that although Medicare “changed its blanket denial,” it allowed coverage decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Over 1.4 million transgender people live in the United States

Not even 100 board-certified plastic surgeons in 11 states are performing gender confirmation surgeries. Alan Matarasso, the new president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, believes their ranks will grow rapidly with more training and educational opportunities. He expects that the numbers of surgeries will double in the next five years.

“Like many things, its time has come. It often takes a series of events that makes the timing right,” said Matarasso. “Media attention and Caitlyn Jenner didn’t hurt, also the political climate that we’re in that’s perhaps more accepting of this.”

Matarasso noted that they now have a greater understanding of the needs of the transgender community. He added that theirs is a biological condition, not an illness. An estimated 1.4 million transgender people live in the U.S. However, many don’t have affordable access to gender transition surgeries.

Sarah McBride, a press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said that a third of transgender people have undergone some gender-transition related surgery and that 14 percent of trans women and 21 percent of trans men say they aren’t interested in having surgery. However, she noted that it is difficult to say what the remaining sixty-ish percent of trans people believe regarding surgery.

Gender-confirmation surgeries can cost between $20,000 and $30,000, and many insurance plans exclude transgender people from getting the same treatments that other populations enjoy access to.

Source: The Washington Post